Theatre’s Place in a Netflix World

It’s common to hear of aspiring actors declaring a preference for screen or TV. As discussed in the previous posting, this may purely be down to the fact that students are wise to the fact that opportunities in theatre are waning. However, it would be foolish to disregard any medium in a profession that is always so exhaustingly coupled with the adjective “unpredictable”.

As Patricia Hodge said this week in the Guardian: “Actors can only be as good as what they’re offered – our only weapon is our ability to say no. When you’re at the beginning of your career, you’re not able to say no very often. Fledgling actors need to say yes to everything.”.

Aside from seriously hampering career opportunities, disregarding theatre prevents you from embracing the creative independence that film and television simply can’t afford. As Lara Pulver said: “At first I found screen acting far more difficult than stage acting. The lack of rehearsal was quite a shock, but you learn very quickly that the key to being comfortable on screen is preparation. With stage work you have time to prepare with the rest of the cast and explore the play together – on screen you generally have to turn up with a performance.”

Maxine Peake declared: “For me, theatre is where it’s at…With theatre, you sit and read it and chat about it, discuss it, but with telly you’ll be doing a scene and it’ll be, “What does that mean? Oh right, OK, let’s go.” You get a read-through, but costume might come in and say “Let’s take your measurements” and makeup women come in trying to get their job done and they don’t have any time because the budgets are just getting tighter and tighter. You literally have to do in 30 seconds what you’d do in about four weeks in theatre.”

In television, the old adage that time is money prevents the organic exploration that theatre rehearsals are known for. Furthermore, despite, or perhaps because of, government cuts, there is a common consensus that theatre is upping its game. As a result, it is in new writing for theatre that actors are permitted to be daring and radical. There is an emphasis on encouraging the new and risk-taking is something to be encouraged rather than feared.

As Robert Lepage mentioned in today’s Guardian: “I think theatre must be an event, an experience, not compete with cinema. When people are able to download stories on Netflix, you need to give them a good reason to jump into the car and drive two hours. It has to be something you can only see in the theatre, and it has to be worth it.”

You would have thought with the hike in tuition fees that there would be fewer students applying to drama school. However, Audition Doctor has actually seen a sharp increase in students. This is perhaps because students know inherently that the emphasis on theatre training at drama school will give them the opportunity to practice the kind of artistic license that screen acting doesn’t allow.

Dennis Kelly recognised this when he said: “Theatre is a gateway to thinking – you start off with plays because it involves acting and messing around, and before you know it you’re reading and watching foreign films and thinking, and you just can’t stop.”